Sept. 22, 2019: My calendar notes that “Autumn begins” today. I always heard it called “fall,” though I’ve known as far back as I can remember that “autumn” was another name for it.
As my world expanded to include more people from more places, I sometimes got the feeling that “autumn” was considered more sophisticated. I can’t prove that. It was, as I said, just a feeling. But maybe somewhat justified. Because a little research tells me that “autumn” — these days — is the British preference, while “fall” is more associated with North America. (Type in “fall vs. autumn” on an internet search engine and you’ll find a ton of references.)
Further research told me that “fall” is the older term, originating in England before American English itself originated in the colonies. “Autumn” entered the English language via the French automne. It’s apparently been around as long as “fall,” but didn’t gain a lot of traction until later. So it’s “autumn” in the UK, but originally it was “fall.”
We have “fall semester” with “fall sports,” yet here in a town in which both are significant, I once lived on Autumn Lane. The “fall equinox” is also called (by more sophisticated people?) “autumnal equinox.”
In their 1964 hit “A Summer Song,” Chad and Jeremy sang:
They say that all good things must end some day.
Autumn leaves must fall.
They couldn’t have said “fall leaves,” because that doesn’t scan. Even if it did, “Fall leaves must fall” is awkward. Anyway, they are British. The phrase, nonetheless, hints at why the season was originally called “fall,” since that’s what leaves do at this time of year.
Each season has something to offer, but fall edges out spring as my favorite season. This is partly because the new school year begins, bringing its new possibilities — long ago for me, then for my children, now for my grandchildren. Also, the heat of summer begins to subside and it’s more pleasant to be outside.
But more so, though the leaves die, fall and decay, I see this as a time of rebirth, the beginning of nature’s annual renewal. The first step toward the burst of life and color we’ll see in the spring.